Detail of mural on wall of Pepe's Tacos facing Boulder Highway, near Flamingo. Below, artist Fernando Reyes.
While the walls of Las Vegas neighborhoods are blank of Mexican-themed murals, you can still find some. They are working hard in the kitchens of Southern Nevada.
Right away a mural stalker will notice how stories don’t rise from the local Latino enclaves. Instead, painted images filter out of restaurants and taco shops with only an aroma of a larger legacy, and have no scent of social message or advocacy. They are eatery décor and created with a cultural mandate that murals are supposed to be up, even of they lean toward being more folk art than public art. Usually are the typical scenes of quiet villages and landscapes, or as seen in grocery stores with Latino products, about a good harvest and prepping for large meals.
If you look hard enough you can find some touches of storytelling. At one spot, a restaurant owner peeks out from a doorway while his mother and father stand in the street of a village. A taco stand on the road that takes you to Nellis Air Force Base has a mural on the parking lot wall showing the local mountain range under a swath of blue that, on most days, matches the big sky. Painted on the mural are jets in a flyover.
Like murals painted inside casinos, most are unsigned. It was by chance I met two artists who worked on pices. Earlier last year I drove past one small restaurant and from Boulder Highway I saw someone painting on the wall, so I stopped. The artist was Fernando Reyes, a twenty-something muralist who manages to pull out detail from that textured stucco that fights a brush.
A few months ago I met artist Juan D. Varela at an opening and the conversation swung to murals. I learned he was the one who painted a series inside the very restaurant that had me first wonder if the only Latino murals I would find would be when I was at a table reading a menu.
That’s how the Mexican mural tradition adapted in a region that's in the center of the Latino cores of Colorado, Arizona, and Southern California, where barrio walls are banners that identify community. It may be easy to just glance at these works since they were not painted to be an interpretation of public art, or how these modest pieces are just there to make space as authentic as recipes. If you listen closely, they are café owners and artists making a quiet statement that a cultural marker of murals won’t surrender easily.
Juan D. Varela at Dona Maria Tamales Restaurant in downtown Las Vegas.
Mariachis and folk dancers at El Torito in Henderson, Nevada.
A customer finds shade next to a mural at Charleston and Fremont.
Inside Lindo Michoacan.
Vast mountains and sky at Ricos Tacos Number 8.
Above: Stephen Hendee created sculpture for the celebration of 30 years of public art programming in the City of Las Vegas.